War against narcotics

Daily News Editorial

In spite of the various measures announced and undertaken by the authorities to curb the smuggling of illicit drugs, the trade seems to be thriving. Just a couple of days ago, Customs agents and Police Narcotics Bureau personnel seized 200 Kilos of cocaine concealed in a container stored at the Orugodawatte yard.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that the stock of cocaine had been brought to the island under the guise of importing sugar from Brazil. The total street value of the seized drugs has been estimated to be over Rs. 2 billion. Incidentally, this is not the first time that cocaine was found in a sugar container from Brazil.

In July this year, a similar raid conducted at a private container yard in Peliyagoda yielded 274 Kg of cocaine in two sugar containers imported from Brazil. The PNB recently detected 31 kilogram of cocaine inside another sugar container at a warehouse in Pethiyagoda, Kelaniya. The seizures are the biggest since August 2013, when police found 260 kg of heroin hidden in a shipping container that had arrived from Pakistan.Cartoon from internet

It is still not clear whether all these stocks were intended for local distribution or for transshipment to a third country or region, especially Europe. Sri Lanka is apparently being used as a midway point by certain narcotics smugglers. Drugs continue to be illicitly trafficked from South-West Asia to India and then from India to Sri Lanka, Maldives and other western countries, according to a recent report compiled by the Narcotics Control Board of India. The report notes that cocaine also comes to South Asia from South American countries like Brazil, Peru, Chile and Bolivia, and is re-routed to Europe and North America from South Asia.

The intricate web of drug smuggling routes could explain the presence of the contraband in the containers, but further investigations will be needed to find out the exact details. Indeed, the latest detection was the result of an intensified search of sugar containers from South America following the July incident. Sri Lanka is not the only country targeted by the smugglers – similar detections were made in Kenya in recent times. More than 9,000 Kg of narcotics have been seized from traffickers in the Indian Ocean region in the past three years alone. This shows the sophistication and regional nature of the drug trafficking syndicates.

President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have vowed to wage war against drug traffickers. However, this is not a battle that Sri Lanka can wage alone, given the global presence of drug traffickers. The fact that one of Sri Lanka’s leading drug barons Wele Suda was nabbed in another country shows the truly global nature of this illicit business.

Sri Lanka must essentially work with other countries in the region and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to combat the drug menace. In one such example of international cooperation, the Indian and Sri Lankan navies have apprehended several boats that tried to bring in narcotics to Sri Lanka. The PNB has already sought Interpol assistance on several occasions to track down narcotics kingpins and smuggling routes. Our officials must also work closely with their counterparts in Brazil and South America to trace the origins of these consignments.

It is even more important for the international community to share intelligence on drug trafficking. This assumes greater significance in the light of revelations that most terror groups also engage in narcotics smuggling to finance their operations. International action is the need of the hour to nab drug traffickers due to the global nature of the operations of drug cartels.

At national level, all precautions must be in place to ensure that illicit drugs do not reach the society. It should be a multi-pronged attack on the narcotics trade, with the positive involvement of Police, Armed Forces, Customs, PNB and the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board. The Finance Ministry has also stepped in, establishing an anti-narcotics unit. These units must be given all facilities to discharge their duties effectively.

The Police are often blamed for catching the small fry and letting the big fish go scot free when it comes to narcotics. While it is important to catch the small-time drug pushers and users, it is more important to net the bigger players in the narcotics trade. Recently, the PNB, STF and Police have managed to track down some of the kingpins, but much more needs to be done.

Illicit drugs continue to remain among the highest-value illicit commodities trafficked in the Asia-Pacific region – fueling violence, corruption, conflict, addiction and societal decay. The International Community must thus come together to rid the world of illicit drugs. Sri Lanka successfully waged a war against terror, but narcotics could be an even bigger threat to our nation, especially our youth, if we do not take corrective steps now. There is no time to lose in intensifying our battle against narcotics. Otherwise, our very future would be at stake.